When grievers are dealing with the emotional pain of a loss of any kind, they are constantly bombarded with advice that negatively impacts them. Most professional grief support providers know better than to say many of these things. The problem is that the vast majority of people trying to support them have no professional training. Their immediate friends try to be helpful, but just do not have the best information at their disposal to provide meaningful support.
Many of us have been told what not to say to grievers. The problem with a list of “don’ts” is that it is easy to forget. The reality is that things sometimes pop out of our mouths before we think of how those comments might be perceived. Rather than offering a list, we will be looking at a few of those comments and explain why they can be painful to the griever.
Please keep in mind that there is an enormous difference between “intention” and “perception”. Most people never intend to upset those grieving by offering advice. They are desperately trying to provide help and support. The problem arises in how the griever perceives the comment. Grievers have a reduced sense of concentration and may be highly sensitive to what they hear. Things that they might normally dispute or ignore can cut like a knife to the heart. That is why these well-intentioned remarks need to be avoided.
“Get Over It!”
No caring person wants to see another suffering. We naturally want them to feel better! After an arbitrary amount of time, many think that the passage of that time should somehow make a difference in how the griever is responding to their loss. This is frequently when people tell them that they need to “Get over it!” The reality is that when something major happens in our lives, we never “get over” it. The memories of that event will be with us forever. With the proper education and assistance, we can learn to “survive and thrive” in spite of that event.
Telling someone to get over it is often perceived as telling that person that the loss they experienced is not significant enough that it should continue to impact their life. If that loss was significant enough to cause grief, it will continue to impact their life on some level. The degree of impact is not controlled by time. Time only passes by and sets that emotional pain into place as part of their “new normal”. When that happens, not only does the griever not get over it, but rather continues to live that pain silently. They start stuffing their feelings to avoid hearing this painful suggestion again and again.
A far better thing to do is to let them know that it is possible to take grief recovery action to lessen that emotional pain. By taking such action, they will be able, once again, to enjoy the many positive memories of that relationship.
“I know how your feeling…”
No one knows how anyone else feels over their loss. It does not matter if you have had a very similar loss. You may remember how you felt after your loss, but that does not mean that you have a clue about what is going on inside this griever. Their feelings are based on their personal relationship, which is obviously different than the relationship that you grieved. When grievers hear people say this, they know it is not the truth.
For the griever experiencing the very personal emotional pain of their individual loss, hearing people continually say these words, as a means of comfort, can eventually result in anger and disbelief on a level similar to what is experienced. To make matters worse, even members of their own family, who have experienced the same loss, do not really know how others in that family are feeling.
If you have experienced a similar loss, it is better to say, “I know how it felt to me when I was dealing with _____, but how are you doing right now?” If you ask this, be willing to listen to their answer, without analysis, criticism, or judgment. Understand that there is little you can say at that moment to make this better. If you have not had a similar loss, but want to say something, you might begin with, “I can’t begin to imagine what you are going through at this time…” and invite them to tell you how they are feeling.
“They are in a better place…”
Even if you knew the deceased and are certain of this family’s faith convictions, this may or may not reflect what they are thinking. Furthermore, that person may be in a better place, but that does not make the loss any less emotionally painful, because the family is stuck here and has to deal with everything in “this place”.
The reality of things is that a person who is deeply grieving a death and constantly hearing this from others might possibly consider suicide so that they can join that person in that “better place.” This is obviously a worse case emotional response. If the family’s faith involves belief in an afterlife, they do not need constant reminders. If they are not people who hold this as part of their personal faith, it is a comment that holds no value for them.
“You shouldn’t feel bad because…”
Emotional loss is painful. Telling people why they should not feel sad does little to change that pain. If anything, they may begin to feel bad about the fact they are experiencing pain. No matter what reason you may have to offer on why they should not feel bad, it has very little impact on their level of emotional pain.
The perception of many grievers, on hearing this, is that their personal pain is not something that matters.
“You must be feeling…”
Grief can be very much like being on a roller coaster. The feelings associated with any grieving experience can, at times, be overwhelming. At other moments, the griever may feel relatively at peace with their situation. The problem, for those trying to offer support, is that we can never truly know where they are on this emotional ride. No matter what you think, you never really know how they are feeling and to suggest that you do, can easily be taken as another example of “I know how you feel”.
Grievers get very tired of people telling them how to feel. If you suggest that they are feeling sad, and at that moment they are not, they may now feel bad for not feeling what you suggested their feeling should be.
It is, again, far better to invite them to share their feelings instead.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty…”
Grievers may or may not feel bad about some of the choices they have made. Suggesting, before they say anything, that they should not feel guilty, frequently makes them think of all of the reasons why they should feel guilty. Many grievers never associated their feelings of loss with guilt until someone suggested that they should not feel guilty.
Introducing the concept of feeling guilty encourages the griever to feel that they are somehow responsible for the loss. This is rarely the case.
If on their own, grievers tell you that they are feeling guilty, it might be helpful to ask them if they are instead thinking of things they wish might have been different, better, or more in that relationship. If they say yes to this, you might begin to talk about the Grief Recovery Method actions they can take to better express and deal with those feelings.
“You should be grateful for…”
Grievers sometime perceive this as another way of discounting the honest pain they are feeling. While they might feel grateful that their loved one is no longer suffering, that does not mean that they, the griever, are not suffering.
“It was God’s will…” or “God never gives us more than we can handle…”
I have heard this expression passed on to grievers more times than I can begin to count. This may or may not reflect their personal religious belief.
This comment sometimes causes people to question their personal faith in a God that would “take their loved one from them.” Children can be particularly sensitive to this comment. In a number of situations, I have heard a friend or clergy member tell a child that “God needs your Daddy more than you!” While this is meant to be comforting, that is rarely the case. These children are often left questioning their relationship with their faith.
“They led a full life…”
This may be true, but many of us wish that we still had more time to share.
As with many statements that people make to grievers, this one is based on an element of logic. The problem is that grief is emotional and not logical. It speaks to their head, rather than their heart. As a result, it offers little or no comfort.
“You need to keep busy…”
Keeping busy does keep our minds occupied, but it does little to relieve the emotional pain of loss. When the busy work ends, the pain is still there. It is not uncommon for grievers to keep themselves busy to the point of exhaustion. They continue to repeat this cycle over and over, thinking that on some level, it will help them get beyond their emotional pain.
Keeping busy solves nothing. It is not helpful advice. Grievers would be better served with being offered recovery actions to help them move beyond the loss, rather than just being offered busy work, which encourages them to stuff their feelings.
Most of these statements and comments are things that all of us have heard other people say when we were growing up. If you think back to your childhood when adults told you to get over it and other bits of unhelpful advice, those comments likely did not make anything better. Since you heard these things from the people you trusted, you very likely still tried to make them work for your situation. It was not until I took advanced training in helping grievers that I have finally realized that they had become part of my belief system growing up, too, and that I needed to avoid falling back on repeating them to grievers.
As a grief support professional, my goal is to help grievers move through and beyond the emotional pain of loss. There is a high probability that others have encouraged you, intentionally or unintentionally, to hide your feelings.
The greatest gift you can give anyone grieving is to listen with your heart and not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed without judgment, criticism, or analysis.
*This post is adapted from Stephen Moeller, Grief Recovery Specialist, for the Grief Recovery Method blog.*
My most favorite place to be is on a little slab of concrete outside my patio door. We have an apple tree and another tree that’s really quite messy but offers shade. I love putting out a bird feeder in the apple tree. It’s funny to watch the birds start to get a little feisty with each other. Just this morning, too, I saw a blackbird chase away a squirrel. I later found, up high in the messy tree, there was a blackbird nest. The mother bird was doing as God intended and was protecting her young.
My Favorite Place
This week, the mornings have been nothing short of glorious. It’s been calm, perfect weather, and nature is bursting with life. I have immensely enjoyed my mornings this week. My attitude and spirit have been elevated, too. As I am writing this, I am sitting outside, taking in all the sights and sounds nature has to offer. And for me, it fills my cup. I’ve always been fond of, too, the final few minutes of CBS Sunday Morning where they take viewers to a place in nature and offer a bit of uninterrupted nature time. Here’s my version (audio only, of course), recorded just for you from my patio. Shut out the world and give yourself 30 seconds to enjoy the sounds of nature. Here is my version – recorded from my patio just for you. Shut out the world and give yourself 30 seconds of uninterrupted time with sounds of singing birds. 🙂
We often think we need to get away to “get away” from it all. I have found, all I need to do is step outside my patio door. Nature is God-given medicine. Add in a morning walk (or run, if that’s your jam) at sunrise before the rest of the world wakes up then ask yourself: Is there a better way to start a day? Some would argue – nope, sleeping in is the best. On some days, I would wholeheartedly agree. However, getting out the door is the hardest part. But once you do and return home to begin the day, you realize something happened in your heart and mind that wouldn’t have happened had you slept in or chose to get out of bed and go straight to obligations.
I want to encourage you, especially if you live in the northern plains where winter is long and, more often than not – harsh, to truly make a plan to enjoy the beauty nature has to offer while we have the glorious mornings to fully embrace it; it does a healthy (and grieving) heart good.
What is your favorite place? If your heart is grieving a loved one, did they have a favorite place? Perhaps visiting their favorite place would wash you over with feelings of peace and calm? If you feel it would only be painful, perhaps it’s time to address the unresolved grief resting in your heart. I want you to know, it is possible to think of your loved one with fondness and loving memories again and without the immense hurt and pain you’ve familiarized yourself with instead. Skeptical? Reach out to me and I will share how it’s possible or read more HERE.
P.S. Are you interested in taking part in a future Grief Recovery Group? Get on the email list and you will be the first to know of upcoming grief recovery informational talks/group dates and locations. You’ll also receive weekly doses of inspirational goodness from my heart to yours. 🙂
When was the last time you had a fantastic day where it felt like nothing could take the wind out of your sails? You didn’t spend hours being upset about something; where even mother nature provided a goldilocks-kind-of-day to enjoy. Most of us have to think real hard about this question. Because life isn’t perfect, right? And rarely do we have a day that feels as such. Or, is it how we’re choosing to see it? Furthermore, is how we see our days being influenced by the grief we store in our hearts?
Consider, too, for a moment the grief we store in our hearts and then add on our political climate with opposing views, often among family members. Then, tack on our home climate – is it chaotic, frenzied, harmful, or so busy you would forget to be if it weren’t for your phone (this has been me, too, no shame).
Is it any wonder we’re stressed out to the max? Add on the demands of life and life events that occur that are beyond our control and our bodies become the perfect incubators for disease.
I tend to feel drained by heavily social situations and I also tend to take on the negative energy of others, if I’m not mindful. Meditation is wonderful for a mental recharge/reset but how you prevent it is where I was looking forward to hearing her insight. She said that we cannot attach to the outcome and that where the energy is at in others is not our business. It’s a practice of mindfulness; witnessing the energy of others, acknowledging that that is their current experience, and noticing what is going in our own energy space. And then it’s a matter of choosing to not allow ourselves to get into negative energy and doing whatever we can to elevate our own (to put our oxygen mask on first).
Some Things You Can Do to Shift Your Energy Quickly
Remove yourself from the presence of the situation/person.
Saying a prayer or an affirmation to yourself. For example, I am in charge of my thoughts. I decide how I want to feel. God/Angels/Universe, help me to see this situation differently.
Taking a walk in nature is a wonderful mind/body reset, too.
Meditation, as previously mentioned. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. Even 10 minutes helps! Recently, I learned of a neat technique through a young girl’s youth program in which I’m a mentor. Sit on the floor, put a hand in front of you on the floor with your fingers spread out. With eyes open or closed, take the index finger of your other hand and, starting at the base of your thumb, trace your fingers all the way around your hand, breathing in as you trace your finger moving up and exhaling as you trace your finger down. It’s a very effective calming technique and because you’re focusing on your breathing, it’s also a quick meditation practice that’s easy enough for kids and adults alike that may have never meditated or have tried it but found it challenging. Quieting the mind is hard; however, the point is to focus on deep, belly breathing. Thoughts will come and go and that’s okay. Always come back to your breath; you can’t do it wrong. It may be helpful, too, to count up to 8 in your head as you inhale, and while exhaling, count down from 8.
Listen to uplifting music.
Read positive quotes.
Watch some animal/baby YouTube videos. Seriously, this works. A good laugh is good for the soul.
Reframe the situation. What is one positive thing you can say about what you’ve experienced? What has the experience taught you? How can you carry that lesson moving forward?
The above are generic suggestions for shifting energy quickly. Life is full of challenges and this is not an attempt to simplify or minimize those challenges. Take what is helpful and ditch the rest. It’s a matter of cleaning up our side of the energy space. We are all energy. And, thoughts are energy, too. Thoughts become feelings and feelings become actions. And we back it all up with energy.
Back when I went to Austin, TX for my grief recovery certification training, I mentioned in this blog post meeting a new friend who is a Buddhist. We have kept in touch and recently we had a conversation about how to not take on the energy of others and we discussed the aforementioned. My friend went on to provide a beautiful analogy of our spirit/inner-light. She told me to imagine myself as a candle – “you are a light,” she said. She went on to explain that when you take one candle to light another, the first candle doesn’t get dimmer, rather, it burns just as bright – it’s not losing anything. So, when you’re sharing your light with others freely (without holding on to a certain outcome), similarly like a candle, your light is not extinguished and it’s then allowed the light of others to burn brightly, too. I just found that to be a beautiful analogy for the human spirit. We don’t have to feel like we’re losing a part of ourselves (and giving up our energy) when we help others burn brightly. Rather, we take care of and nurture our (inner) light so we can help others.
Sharing My Light So YOU Can Burn More Brightly
Wednesday night, I gave my last talk before I was planning to start my first Grief Recovery Group. I came into it with a ton of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement! I had two people show up that weren’t even from the community and I left with the same energy, enthusiasm, and excitement – not for me – for them. Why? Because they took action and showed up for themselves. They are tired of the grief weighing on their hearts and lives and have decided to do something about it. I admire them for it because it takes courage. All the while, my heart is sad for those who feel that the pain is more deserving of their heart than the love that is locked away because it’s unable to be fully expressed.
Over the last five weeks or so, I’ve given three talks in three different communities. The first talk had 2 people in attendance. The next talk had 1 person. And the last talk, as I mentioned, 2 showed up. I know there are a lot more than 4-5 grievers out there within a 45-minute drive of me. I know there are.
It is so common that few show up to these talks at the beginning that I was forewarned. Yup, my mentors at The Grief Recovery Institute told me this would happen! Perhaps you wanted to come but you had prior obligations or you had an emergency. I get that things happen. No worries. Who I am directly talking to right now are those who know they’re hurting, whose hearts told them to put their shoes on but whose minds talked them out of it. Because I know that’s exactly what was happening and what I was told would happen.
We all reach the end of our ropes at some point. Perhaps your hurting heart is just not there yet. And, that’s okay. There is no timeline to grief because truthfully, you’ll never be rid of it. Never. The love has nowhere to go when you’ve lost the one you were giving it to. However, it is possible to think of your loved one and not be taken back to the deep grief you’re currently feeling. It is possible to think of your loved one and remember the happy times more than all the things you never got to say, wish you would’ve said, or all the memories you’ll never share again. It’s living alongside grief. It’s actually living – moving forward beyond the grief that is possible.
I can’t want this for you more than you want it for yourself. If this resonates with you and you feel a tug in your heart to join those who’ve decided to take this journey of healing, you have until Wednesday, May 29th, at the latest to join. We actually start next Wednesday, the 22nd, however, week 2 is the cut-off date. After this 8-week group, I don’t know when the next group will be held.
Will you choose to heal? If not now, when? If not this, then what?
P.S. If you would like more info or would like to begin your healing journey next week, email me directly at victoria [at] theunleashedheart [dot] com OR reach out via Facebook messenger on my page, The Unleashed Heart.
One of my favorite shows (in fact, I DVR it) is CBS Sunday Morning. This past Sunday, there was a story about a man who receives people’s secrets on postcards. Secrets that many would otherwise likely take to their grave. It’s gained so much traction, there are exhibitions of the postcard secrets. It’s an amazing example of how one idea can change your life.
Anyway, it got me thinking about grief being a result of a secret or maybe many secrets. We tend to hold the most painful things closest to our hearts and the postcard secrets is a beautiful outlet for people to give their grief a voice.
A Grief Wish in a Bottle
If I told you to write a message of truth about your grief on a piece of paper, put it in a bottle, and throw it into the ocean – what would you have it say? What do you wish others knew about your grief? What would be your S.O.S. or your grief wish?
Like the gentlemen said in the postcard secret story (at around 3 minutes 45 seconds) about how keeping a secret keeps hold of us; I believe grief keeps hold of us, too. We hold ourselves back from our lives in work, love, relationships, and our potential. Our growth is hindered and our perspective shifted in a new, unrecognizable way that we’re afraid to step into our lives fully because it’s a path we didn’t choose.
You may be reading and thinking that you don’t have grief. You may not have experienced an emotional loss of any kind (which is grief). Although I believe that is highly unlikely, perhaps the word secret resonates with you more?
What is your secret? Does this secret cause you grief? I bet it has and maybe still does. Know that that is normal and natural. And also know that it’s not weak to ask for help – it takes courage.
Fear & Grief
You may be afraid to open the windows and doors of your mind and heart, letting all the grief out because what if changes you? Well, grief changed you, right? And that wasn’t your choice. You have a choice, though, now – in how you move forward and what is written in your life story moving forward.
You may be afraid to let go of the familiar feeling grief has provided you, somehow making you feel connected to what you lost. But know that it’s the resistance of letting go of the grief that is keeping you in the past, too. Grief may have changed you, but it doesn’t need to define you for the rest of your life.
My wish for you is that you can look back on what you’ve lost and rather than be pulled back into the feelings of the loss and allow it to dictate the present, instead, inner-peace washes over you about how far you’ve come. Rather than the positive memories being overtaken by the negative, you command the driver’s seat of the present – in how you feel, what you know to be true, and the internal perspective of the grief you choose to give focus to.
Inner-peace: that’s my wish for you.
P.S. Feel like sharing your grief wish? What do you wish others knew about your grief? What is it, about your grief, you need to get off your chest? You can email directly at victoria [at] theunleashedheart [dot] com. No reply will be given unless requested – this is simply for you to put to words what you wish you could say (or scream) out loud and will be read by my eyes only. Or hey, maybe find a place in nature and do just that. Call it an exercise in grief release.
We’ve all heard the saying: “It takes a village to raise a family.” I want to add: “It takes a village to heal.” We can try all our might to heal alone, but that road is far more lonely, frustrating, and longer than it needs to be.
One of the myths of grief is to grieve alone. We are told, from a young age: if you want to cry, go to your room. In other words – grieve alone. It’s the idea that we are to have a stiff upper lip and there’s something to be sorry about for crying in front of others. I used to apologize when I got emotional in front of others because I hated the feeling that someone else was made to feel uncomfortable at my expense. Or, it was something to also be embarrassed about. I imagine men feel the latter more strongly than women, because, heaven forbid a man cries in public, right?
Our society doesn’t know what to do with grief – our own, much less the grief of others. But, I can tell you, there is a reason therapists still have a job. There’s a reason there are social workers. There’s a reason schools are mandated to have school counselors. And yet, here we are – having made no more progress in the pursuit of joy and inner-peace when it comes to the many losses we experience in our lives than where we were 3 generations ago. Because influenced learning continues. It’s also why the cycle of abuse in families generally continues. We learn from our parents and our parents learned from their parents and so forth.
So today – it takes a village to come to this understanding. And, it takes a village to heal, too. We start within ourselves, yes, but we can’t do it alone either. We need support, guidance, and a heart with ears. We need to be able to feel heard without judgment, criticism and analyzing.
The last three days have been filled with interesting conversations around grief, several that occurred very spontaneously, too. And, the one thing that occurred to me is busy-ness blocks healing. One of the other myths of grief to keep busy. Growing up, we’re taught that if you just keep busy and keep doing and going and going that it will somehow magically take our pain away. But, it never goes away, does it? We simply overlay it with the band-aid of busy.
Our busy-ness hinders healing for others, too. For example, when you ask someone how they’re doing and they reply with, what you know, is not going to be a simple I’m fine but rather a story about their disheartened state, you suddenly may regret you even asked. Because in your busy-ness you were hoping for a short answer. In fact, you were expecting it, right? So, you’re taken down the rabbit hole of someone else’s unfortunate day and all you’ve got running through your head is your to-do list, the meeting you’re supposed to be at, or maybe how you regret you even asked in the first place.
We’ve all been there – no guilt, no shame needed. But, let’s just bring this to our awareness for a moment. And, I challenge you, that – unless you’re really willing to be present for that person and give them your heart space for them to share, do yourself, and them a favor, and give a simple hello and smile instead.
Time heals all wounds, right? Wrong. It’s action taken within time that matters and we don’t take the action necessary – for ourselves or others, to nurture healing either. We don’t seek a village for support because of shame or guilt, and we are hesitant to offer our time to others, too out of fear, I believe, too.
There is so much more to this and I’ve barely scratched the surface. But, I hope it’s helped bring some awareness.
To healing – yours and mine,
P.S. Did this post resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Know someone who would enjoy this? Use the easy-peasy share buttons! Thank you for reading! xx
The title of my post is the question I have for you today: Do you believe you’re worthy of healing?
Your first reaction may be, ‘of course, I do.’ Or, you may be asking yourself: What kind of question is that? But how many of us act on it – even if we’re convinced we do deserve healing? Not enough; kids today are still learning the default setting we’re passing along.
Give it some thought, though – really. Do you believe you’re worthy of healing? When you’re on pain island and would give anything to be on pleasure island, what action would you take? What would you sacrifice to get to where you’d rather be than in the depths of pain you may be in right now? What would it take?
It is not uncommon for women especially, to put the oxygen mask on everyone else around us before ourselves.
What happens though, when everyone you’ve sacrificed yourself for to thrive, look at you one day and you’re all tapped out – you’ve got nothing left to give?
The “G” Word
But, what is guilt?
Guilt is an intent to do harm. But, you didn’t intend to do harm did you?
Based on a Canadian study, by the time we are 15-years-old, we’ve heard more than 23,000 messages that are negative about expressing any kind of sad, painful emotions. We’re taught, through this influenced learning, that it’s a negative thing to have feelings in the first place by how adults around us are modeling ways they negatively handle painful emotions.
Once we reach adulthood, we don’t know any better. All of the conditioning we’ve received becomes our default setting. So when life happens, and we experience significant emotional losses, we neither know what to do about nor if healing is even possible. More importantly, we push away our feelings and by doing so, we’re sending ourselves the message that we’re not worthy of healing. Because, whether you’re choosing to stay in the pain or choosing to make a commitment to healing your heart – either way, you’re making a choice.
Where would you rather be – pain or pleasure island?
You are worthy of healing. Always and forevermore.
P.S. If you’re in my area in south-central ND, I have two free talks coming up this coming week about grief and an introduction to The Grief Recovery Method. I hope you can join me! 🙂